Baggage Check: Will her father-in-law try to sabotage this pregnancy?

Dec 17, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your questions about relationships, family, mental health, motivation, work-life balance, well-being, and more. Read past Baggage Check columns here.

Get mental health tips and an early glimpse at Dr. Andrea's next book "Detox Your Thoughts" by following Dr. Andrea on Facebook or Instagram.

Important disclaimer: this chat should not be considered a substitute for one-on-one psychotherapy, and is for general informational purposes only. (Dr. Andrea's advice on 80s song lyrics and snacking, however, is completely official.)

Hello, all!

Today marks the last chat until 2020. Hard to believe! I plan to be back in the new year, come Hell or high water-- and there's definitely a little bit of high water-- so let me please reiterate how much I appreciate your showing up.

For now, though, what have you got for me? What's on your mind?

There have been two recent dog attacks in the neighborhood I live in and it's created great anxiety for me about walking my own dog. In one case, two dogs set upon two much smaller dogs who were in their own yard. The injured dog is recovering. In the other attack, an off-leash dog attacked a dog being walked on-leash by its owner. That attack was fatal. I'm now extremely nervous about walking my small, sweet dog and am not sure how to manage it. I feel like there isn't much that I can do to prevent an attack or defend myself. Pepper spray doesn't seem to be an answer: In the fatal attack, the attacking dog's owner pepper sprayed his dog multiple times and even wounded it himself (I'm sparing the graphic details). The police eventually had to shoot the dog. Being more choosy about where I walk doesn't seem to be the answer: I've learned that the park where I prefer to walk my dog was the scene of another fatal attack about a year ago and that people have recently spotted someone regularly letting a powerful-looking dog off leash on the trails. More laws doesn't seem to be the answer: we already have leash laws which are ignored and are hard to enforce. The cops are unlikely to come (or to arrive in time) at the mere report of an off-leash dog. To add to it all, the neighborhood listserv is now full of vitriolic debate about dog breeds and people are sharing their own graphic stories about recent dog attacks. I have neither seen nor heard any of these attacks, but it's all making me very fearful. I HAVE to walk my dog--how do I manage my anxiety around it?

I am sorry. This is terrible stuff, for sure.

Chatters may chime in about best practices for keeping your dog safe on walks. But I can certainly chime in about the anxiety piece. As horrible as these events are, and as much as it sounds like it's a major epidemic, though, it's important that you recognize that your lens is skewed right now. It's a stakes-odds issue (anxiety makes us oversensitized to the stakes of something happening, to the point of ignoring accurate and realistic data of the odds.) It feels like this is a super huge common risk because the stakes of it are so huge if it were to happen. But realistically, the odds still remain very, very low, and are perhaps even lower now than they were before these most recent attacks since those dogs are presumably no longer threats. But yeah, you're looking through a skewed lens and it's important to start by recognizing that. (People who have a fear of flying are paralyzed by the same cognitive distortion.)

So, recognize your skewed lens. When the anxious thoughts come up, label them, acknowledge them as unreliable narrators, separate from reality and separate from you ("I'm having the thought that we're going to get attacked. That's my Anxious Voice that has been sent into a tailspin by the terrible incidents I've heard about. But it's not providing any insight; it's just making me feel worse.") Have a visual of that anxious voice and breathe through it and let it pass.

Then do some work in terms of helping calm down your body. Pay attention to all the places where your anxiety is the worst-- muscle tension, racing heart, fast breath, etc.-- and target those areas specifically with some exercises (slowed-down diaphragmatic breathing, neck rolls, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization techniques, etc.)

Keep nudging yourself to do the walks, maybe lots of shorter ones that keep you feeling safer and close to home for now, rather than longer ones that take you farther out of your comfort zone.

Hang in there and keep us posted.

In a prior chat you advised a couple of mothers of depressed adult men who had "failed to launch." If it weren't for a few details -- my parents aren't divorced -- I would have thought you were talking about my family. One chatter mentioned that the moms need to think about what will happen to their "failed to launch" son when the parents are gone. That's what I'm worried about. I really don't know what's going to happen for my brother when my parents are gone. I'm 40. My brother is 30, lives with my parents, and has never worked. He has anxiety and some health issues, but to be honest I think the main problem is that my parents have just... coddled him. His personal struggles don't seem overwhelmingly more difficult than what all adults face. But regardless of why we're in this situation, we are... and I don't know what we will do when my parents are gone. There's no money (they cashed out their 401k, retired early, and have barely put a dent in their mortgage; I work in low-wage, manual labor industry that I love but that isn't going to provide for an extra non-working adult -- at 40 I live with roommate in an inexpensive rental). I know you're not here to give financial advice (or even ethical advice -- what are my responsibilities here?) but I'm scared, and resentful, and I don't know where to start. Help?

I can't tell you how many times I have heard of this situation, and it only seems to be getting more common, not just in the U.S. but everywhere. (Recently I've been doing more reading on the hikikomori in Japan.)

Have you had a sitdown with your parents about this? Perhaps you've tried, and at the very best-case scenario it is probably beyond distressing and awkward. But I am guessing they may need a reality check. No doubt they are coming at it from a place of love and are in a really difficult position-- it's a slippery slope, not that they chose at the outset that this would be the dynamic-- but they need to understand just what the future may hold for their son if they don't start putting more structure in place for him to be able to build at least a semi-independent life for himself.

Do any chatters know offhand of any online resources or supports for this type of thing? I hear about it so often that I bet at the very least there is a message board where you can bounce ideas off of other people in the same boat. Ultimately, of course, it is not your job to rescue him. But the more nudges you can give to get your parents to help scaffold him into a more autonomous life, the less stress you will have later on.

How do I help someone who is a hoarder? My exhusband of 6 years asked me to come over Sunday to help him with something. I hadn't been there in awhile and was shocked. Boxes of stuff piled high, our son's room has so much stuff in it you can't reach the bathroom, trash everywhere, etc. I took pics - it was horrific - but don't know how to help him. He doesn't listen to much I say. I spoke with his brother briefly, but while he's local he never visits him. My ex isolates himself, and our son refuses to go over there. It mostly upset me. Is there anything I can do to help him? He'll get antsy if I throw items away, plus, not really my place. I know this is something deeper but I don't know where to start.

It is something deeper, and it's something that many, many family members struggle with. As an ex, you have even less power here than in the typical situation.

Sadly, the answer is a classic, short one-- in order for you to help him, he needs to be motivated to receive help.Though it's worth also asking: did he show any other signs of personality changes or cognitive deterioration? Though hoarding grows more common as people age (though it's not particularly uncommon across younger age groups), sometimes a more sudden change can represent something in the dementia realm. (You don't mention his age, but I'd be remiss if I didn't put this out there as a possibility.)

He may be too paralyzed by how bad it's gotten to acknowledge that there is a problem. He may be taking on the classic obsessive-compulsive thought patterns of hoarding to the extent where he can't step outside of them to see how bad things have gotten. Or some combo of both.

But if he doesn't want to change, your hands are pretty much tied, until it truly becomes a dangerous situation (not unheard of, given fire hazards.)

There are some resources online for family members, though. You should check out Children of Hoarders, which-- though it obviously has a main focus on the kids in the scenario-- has a lot of good resources about hoarding in general.

Good luck.

Do you know any of the other dogs in the neighborhood enough to ask their humans if you could be dog walking buddies? That's assuming both dogs are amenable to that. It's more fun anyway and will take your mind off things / give you more of a feeling of security.

Nice idea! Thanks.

Time flies! Though I supposed there are A LOT of folks (myself included) who wouldn't mind waking up in a year - AFTER the elections, rather than have to endure a year full of political ads, disinformation, personal attacks, etc. Of course, many of them would soon be disappointed to learn that their candidate or political party didn't win.


Apparently I got a time machine!

Nope, I meant to say "until" 2020.

Perhaps it was my own wishful thinking as well.

I will make that change now because otherwise it will drive me a little bananas.


...and here you are

Thanks. I don't have time to hyperlink, but the point is well-taken.

Hopefully there are some resources for sibs in there as well.

I've started seeing a therapist who's using cognitive behavioral therapy to help me with depression. I'm having trouble understanding it, though. It seems silly to tell myself, when I'm feeling bad about something, that "maybe the bad thing I'm worried about won't happen" or "maybe no one cares about the thing I'm ashamed of." It seems like there has to be more to therapy than that, but I feel like I'm missing something. Is there anything you can suggest to help someone understand CBT and do it correctly?

Well, I think these techniques can go many different ways, depending on the actual nature of the thoughts, and the level of rumination, etc.

But the first person you need to be discussing this with is your therapist! If things seem oversimplified or not clicking to you, they definitely want to know, so that the approach can be adjusted. The techniques that you describe are part of challenging automatic thoughts and doing reality testing. I like adding some additional stuff into that, since the battle with the thoughts is sometimes part of the problem. Thus, I tend to add in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques, which are a little different. But again, the therapy needs to feel like it is resonating with you, so if it's not, it's definitely something to bring up in the session.

My sibling was barely employed for many years, living out his car, my parent's living room, and a grandparent's living room. So many years. Low-paying jobs that were not equivalent to his education and potential. We all worried about what he was going to do when my parents went. Surprise! As soon as they were gone, he found a great job in another state and moved away. All our jaws dropped.


There were a lot of mixed feelings behind that jaw drop, I am sure....

...Is it an option to call the fire marshal and ask hizzer to do a home visit? I once inquired about it in my SiL's locale, and they told me that it can be done.

It is true. And a lot of other agencies take on hoarding cases, as well.

Not sure if OP wants to pull that particular alarm (no pun intended) yet, but it is worth knowing. Thanks.

Can you start with a doctor's visit for your brother - complete work up. Possible referral to mental health professional. Can you go to county health department for help? Does he have underlying condition that qualifies for help? You may have to do legal research to see what programs and aid are available. In my city there is a resource to help place "not independents" in group homes or small apartments. They help with paperwork for govt benefits and finding small part time jobs. This is so frustrating for family members! It takes a lot of work for me to constantly remind myself not everyone is capable of what I am.

This is really good information, about the resources for "non-independents." Great to know; thanks.

My guess is that Brother is already under some mental health and medical care, but it's worth clarifying. Thanks.

If you have the time and money, a group obedience or agility class for your dog could be helpful and rewarding. In my experience many obedience classes include training for dog owners on defensive handling, plus it's a safe, controlled environment to interact with your dog around other dogs and their owners. It's also a fun way to keep your dog active that might give you an occasional alternative to walking on the trails.

Yes! Makes sense. And you're right, it could especially be useful as something of a desensitization strategy to get your dog around other dogs in a a controlled environment, to start taking the edge off the anxiety. Thanks.

I have been on an antidepressant for about a year, and it was working well until some increased stress at work started a few months ago. I tried increasing the dose but didn't like the side effects. The stress will likely last until the New Year. So should I just wait it out, try talk therapy in the meantime (tried it once and wasn't a fan), or talk to my primary doc about changing my med. I tend to get side effects easily which is why I am hesitant to switch for something that does seem to have an expiration date.

I think this is probably the perfect opportunity for me to choose "none of the above." You need not just wait it out passively, need you absolutely change your dosage if that is likely to cause issues, nor should you automatically seek out therapy (wow, did I really just say that?) when realistically by the time you'd get an appointment it's the holiday scheduling blackout and your issues may have abated soon after anyway.

But yeah, back to the "don't have to passively wait it out" thing. Can you try some additional tools in the meantime for your stress? Guided meditations? Visualizations? Progressive muscle relaxation? More time in the sunshine? (In the DC area at least, the correct answer to that is "What's sunshine?") Journaling? Increased exercise?

Of course, all the usual additional stuff I push- adequate sleep and social time, wholesome eating-- is particularly hard this time of year, no doubt. But I'm thinking that just a little increased self-care could help tide you over without you just having to wait helplessly.

My jaw dropped because I realized that all those years that I assumed he was taking advantage of my parents and grandfather, he was actually helping them out. But he never said that out loud and I never realized that that was what was going on.

It's interesting that that was the dynamic, and it's wonderful that you can see it, and likely be grateful for it.

I can imagine other scenarios where the stress and nail-biting about the perceived failure to launch would go directly against taking care of the parents, though.

But I am so glad it worked out in your case.

I just found out (yesterday) that my husband and I are expecting. We went the IVF route which family knew about however (some) didn't agree with. Neither myself or my husband want to announce anything because it's way to early and the risk is to large right now. I can get away from why I'm not drinking however I have 2 injections that I need to continue to do that need to remain cold at all times. We are staying with my father in law who's incredibly nosey. 1 of these injections needs to remain in the fridge until 5 min before I do it. The other injection I need my husband to do for me (butt cheeks and it's hard to reach). HOW do I keep the cat in the bag that we're expecting when doing these meds? All my father in law would have to do it google the meds to find out what it is. He's one of the people that doesn't agree with us doing IVF and gave us the religion speech more than once. I'm not 100% sure that if he sees the vial in the fridge that he wouldn't put it at room temp or do something that could cause a major medical misstep (he's that type of person). Freezer packs only stay cold for so long so keeping it in ice packs in the room isn't an option and neither is staying at a hotel.

First, congratulations!

But your second-to-last sentence just floored me.

Yes, nosy, disapproving in-laws-- I get it. I see it all the time. And having to hide something in the fridge in such a scenario is a tricky, annoying situation.

But, this guy-- you are actually saying that he is the type of person to sabotage your pregnancy. That he would have the potential to try to hurt you or your baby's health.

I am really, really disturbed by this, and it's hard for me to condone the idea of you staying with him. I mean, seriously-- look at what we're up against here. There's no magic words that I could say (or have you say) that would automatically keep you safe from such a person.

And that's very, very worrisome.

If you must go to visit, can you at least insist on a hotel? Stay safe first

Yes, my thinking as well.

I understand that OP said that a hotel was out of the cards. But this seriously seems like a safety issue, not just an emotionally complex one. Thanks.

Buy a mini fridge, they have them that hold only 6 cans of soda. These are tiny and take up the same space as a six pack. Put it in the bedroom you are staying in and nobody should find out. FWIW, diabetics use these. Should fit under a bed if there is a plug nearby. Good luck.

I maintain my alarm about the loose-cannon nature of the FIL, but this is a suggestion worth passing along. Thanks.

Can you buy some sort of insulated lunch bag and keep your injections in it in the fridge? Cover the injections with chocolate or apples, or whatever, and just say you brought some special snacks that you need because of (invent reason here)?

Honestly I am worried about the safety of anything in that fridge.

But if the FIL's potential actions were less dire, then this is a good solution. Thanks.

I'd stay home and skip the holidays, even if you have to feign an illness to do it.

Sounding more and more like a reasonable option!

Hi Dr. Bonoir! I am gearing up for an extra-long weekend with my siblings, our spouses, and my mother this weekend. I've decided I want to address something that has bothered me for years with respect to my older sibling and his wife: they're extremely critical of my mother. My mom is by no means perfect (none of us are) and I certainly understand my brother's wife being entitled to her opinions about her mother-in-law, but I find it distasteful and rude that SIL makes disparaging comments about my mom in front of her husband's siblings (IE me and my sister). SIL has a history of being openly rude about my brother's origins I front of our family. My sister and I have talked privately about it and we agree we have let it go on far too long. Do you have any advice on how to bring this up without getting hostile or passive-aggressive? I was thinking of just plainly asking my SIL not to demean my mother in front of me, but I am open to suggestions.

Setting, and tone, are everything.

Don't do the same thing your SIL does and target her in front of an audience, making everything worse and more complicated. Be respectful, and be private. And if your sister wants to join in too, have it in such a way that it doesn't feel like she's being ganged up on.

Figure out your brother's role in this. Should he be part of the conversation? Should he be given a heads-up? It sounds like he is part of the problem, but then in your letter it shifts mostly to your SIL. Who is the main person to target here?

Also, make sure that by trying to protect your mother, you don't put her in an even more awkward spot-- by having her be party to an awkward and perhaps conflictual conversation on her behalf that she never consented to.

So, again, choose your context wisely. And though you don't want to nitpick and have a laundry list of offenses like some sort of arrest warrant, it may help to have some specifics that she can actually see and not deny, rather than her being able to deflect with a general "I don't do that and I don't know what you're talking about." So maybe don't do it right away until you have some fresh examples.

Then, take a technique from the couples counseling playbook, and use "I" statements. "I feel hurt when you say things like that in front of me about my mother. You are entitled to your opinion, but when you express it in that particular way it is upsetting."

If your dog is small enough that you can easily pick it up you're in a better position than most. My dog is just a little too big for me to be able to just scoop her up easily if I ever find myself in a bad situation. Take heart in that. Failed to launch adults, look up NEET either on Reddit or elsewhere.

Thank you!

Yeah, I was just talking with a neighbor about this-- how when her dog gets a little persnickety, she can pick her up and walk away.

If we tried that with Buster we would be in traction.

Thanks so much for the NEET suggestion. That is a new term for me and I appreciate it.

Do NOT stay with your FIL. You can't guarantee the safety of yourself and your pregnancy, and even if you figure out an alternative, the stress will drive you mad. If you can't trust that this man won't sabotage your pregnancy, I think it's time to have a serious discussion with your husband about having him in your lives-- and that of your future child.

The last sentence is an excellent point. Thank you.

Yes my jaw dropped at that. You cannot stay with him. 'We will be staying in a hotel.' Make sure it has a fridge. Don't give any excuse - just say it'll work better this way and you'll all have plenty of time.

Yes. This does seem like the most painless answer for now.

No time like the present to get clear on this--your first responsibility is to your child. That applies when he/she is older and you have to say no to an outing because the chaperones are unreliable and it applies now. You risk the chaperones being offended, you risk your FIL being offended. Child first. And your husband should be the one to tell him that, for reasons that are currently personal, you'll be staying at a hotel.

So true-- this could be the first step of setting an important precedent. Especially because FIL has shown himself likely to be wreaking all kinds of havoc in the future.

OP, are you out there?

This wouldn't be your FIL messing with your IVF, it's him MESSING WITH HIS FUTURE GRANDCHILD. WOW.

I didn't want to have to spell that out, but yeah.... yikes.

Whelp, Thanksgiving break had some unexpected excitement (pun intended). Friday evening I got a call from a parent I don't know who had the unenviable task of telling me he found my 15 year old son in his 15 year old daughter's closet. Both had clothes half on. Fast forward to conversation with my kid who thus far has told me he's "just not there yet" on girls/dating, etc. Guess he got there. Previous to this, I, my husband, my brother, and my male cousin have all talked 5,000 times over the last 15 years about bodies, sex, respect, being ready etc. These ramped up in 6th grade when the boys started commenting on girls bodies. I particularly laid out how in our (midwest american) culture it goes from girls are our classmates, neighbors, friends, to now some boys reduce them to their body parts, and then it's oh let's pretend we like them, then comes HS where probably it will be let's all get drunk and mess around. When some older friends started talking about certain aspects of sex, I said "are you ready for that?" No mom, that's disgusting--ok then you are not ready to think about receiving it. Long story short, I thought we were on top of it, but the reality was he was trying to be on top of a girl. Aside from feeling like a complete hoodwinked fool, now what? He's lost his phone, and is on restrictions, but dangit we trusted him and as I said, he knew he was lying and we thought he was truthful. He cried and cried--it was too awkward to be honest and he thought we wanted him to be the kid who wasn't ready. He now says he's had girlfriends before, but this was his first major attempt at something. We've been hammering home how this could have ended in so many worse ways and how just messing around is not OK--he didn't want this girl as his gf and thinks she didn't want him as her bf. Now what? Not sure how to proceed in this world where he's so "horny" ("you were right mom, when those feelings happen, they are really strong!!!") Signed, Did he ever listen to all those conversations all those years??

This is obviously a couple of weeks old, but I wanted to hang on to it.

I have no doubt this was very stressful and disheartening, though at least you are keeping your sense of humor. First, I should ask-- are you out there? Is there an update?

I've got to say, I see this dialogue as a good thing. There are big feelings here (physical and emotional) and he is letting you in at least on some of them. What you have told him all these years is not lost.

So, you continue having those conversations. You continue listening, and also talking about your own values and expectations. You help him navigate this. You set boundaries and restrictions and limits to keep him from making poor choices on your watch, but you also recognize that your job here is to help him build his own decision-making system since all the boundaries and restrictions in the world won't totally remove the possibility of this happening again.

In other words, you're doing A-OK. And though you are disappointed and disheartened, this is the storm of adolescence and your most important job is to be the lighthouse for him, helping him learn to find his own way.

Child has a friend with a serious mental illness. They have been friends for 5 years. My child has always been supportive of friend. With the issues it has been a lopsided friendship, but it seemed to work. I told my child that they would eventually have to tell me something I would have to go to the other child's parent with and it could end the relationship, but the friend's safety and health were more important. It finally happened and friend reacted badly (but got the help they needed), cut my child off and told everyone my child "tattled" to be mean and hurt them. Now a month later the friend is acting like nothing happened. The problem is my child realized how stressful the relationship was and was relieved and a lot happier without it. They want nothing to do with them. What do I say to my child? They have to take care of themself and is much less stressed. It's hard to tell with a high schooler where the stress comes from and I didn't realize a lot was from trying to support this friend.

Yes. So, you empower your child to have made this decision, and you encourage them to carry it out with respect and civility. And you continue to emphasize how important it was that they put their friend's health and safety above the potential social repercussions-- that that was a brave and difficult thing to do, but it ultimately may have saved their friend's (or ex-friend's) life.

And you lend some nuance to the lesson that's been learned, because that's the one caveat I have about this whole thing-- that you don't want your child to learn to avoid people who have emotional issues or mental health challenges. The message should be that the friend isn't able to see that what your child did was the right thing, and that for now, it makes sense to not continue the friendship because there is a perceived trust break on both sides. That we can take care of our friends but also set boundaries in terms of what is acceptable treatment of ourselves. That we can empathize and support and try to protect those who have challenges, but ultimately we also don't deserve to have our names smeared through the mud.

Is there a reason you don't just want to call it out in the moment 'say - that's unnecessary, mom isn't perfect but it's it's unnecessary to be critical. If you have a concern - would you bring it up with her?'

I think that is generally a very good option, but my guess is that at this point they haven't done it for so long that they feel like they need a more serious conversation. And that, ironically, in some ways it may be harder to speak up in real time in the moment as a reaction versus planning and rehearsing as a joint effort to have a more serious sitdown.

One doesn't have to preclude the other, though!

My brother's MiL regularly denigrated him in the presence of us (sibs) and my parents, even after my mother confronted her privately. Other than that one conversation, no one ever confronted her in the moment. Finally, after she denigrated my brother in my presence, I said to her: "You're talking about my brother." She actually replied, "Yes, well it's my son-in-law." I can't help thinking that if we'd all consistently confronted her in the moment from the git-go, she may've been neutralized. It certainly couldn't've hurt.

A nice follow-up on the previous question. Thanks. It's true that old saying, that an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure. (Ben Franklin?)

Your bro's MIL sounds like quite a peach, by the way.

My parents are in good health, financially secure, and retired. I rarely see them or hear from them. It can be two months or more between phone calls, and I just saw them this fall for the first time in 18 months. That was mostly because they planned an overseas trip during a holiday last year we had previously planned to spend together. I have lived in my current area (one state away from them) for more than 15 years and they have visited about 5 times total. My husband has a much closer relationship with his parents, and doesn't understand why my parents seem aloof. There are also implications from him that he thinks I don't care about my parents enough because I don't force them to visit or force them to talk on the phone more. How do I respond to this? Yes, I wish they would agree to visit more (they have a standing invitation and travel frequently other places, so it's not a burdensome request), but I respect their independence and don't want to call every week for unwanted and strained chitchat just to check off some box on adult child responsibility.

It's time your husband understood that all families are different-- and have the right to be-- and that the family he is building with you can be what you and he make of it, and your relationship with your parents does not have to be a referendum on that.

Can you get to the bottom of why he thinks that you don't care enough, solely because you have different styles and his parents are different people? And address that? Are there other things that haven't been mentioned here (you don't mention a single time about you ever visiting them. Is that part of the dynamic? That you are framing it as "They choose not to do XYZ" but you have never chosen to do that either, and that contradiction bothers him?)

My spouse passed away recently and my Daughter and I are struggling to make sense of it. She finally met a good therapist (I think). She away at College but comes home every week via commuter train and public transportation to work, ( (she doesn't need to), she works because she knows I'm not going to fund her weed habit. The issue is that she has some friends that I feel like that are keeping her from meeting her potential. One rents a room in someone's house. Although I have asked him to allow her to find her way, he often allows her to stay at his place and skip school or she will go to school and come right back. The therapist has her on an anti-depressant, which she combines with weed. She says it helps with her anxiety. I've tried talking but nothing matters. Options!

Well, I'm torn here.

I am sure it is very upsetting to see these aspects of her, feeling like her potential is being messed with.

But, I also hear certain things that are heartening. She has a good therapist. She works. She (often) goes to class.

Is that a good enough baseline for now, maybe?
In her grief, it could be that these friends feel like her lifeline. (I am so sorry for your own, loss too, by the way.) Yes, you don't want her smoking weed and combining it with antidepressants. Yes, you don't want her spending all her time with her friends.

But we also don't even have to look any farther than the other questions in today's chat to see that in some ways, she is still getting up, putting one foot in front of the other, and moving forward in life far better than others.

The loss of your spouse is recent. And I'm sure it's very complicated. Maybe convey your concerns to her therapist, but also look at the ways that she IS still holding it together-- and give a little bit more room for her to continue to find herself in this grief?

(I hope you are really getting the support you need too, by the way.)

Please keep us posted.

I’m with you all beating the hotel drum with the IVF OP but sometimes hotels aren’t an option because they don’t exist at the destination. We make a 40 round trip through farmland to the nearest hotel when we visit my family at the holidays. I’m thankful it isn’t farther than that!

True; that's a good point.

I maintain, safety first, though. If no other place to stay in is an option, I'd reconsider the trip, to be honest.

I was recently broken up with and I felt completely blindsided. To say the least, I was extremely hurt and angry and did not react well and said some things that were completely out of line (it also happened after I had been out drinking which certainly did not help things). His main reason was actually related to my drinking and I offered to quit as he is much more important to me than alcohol. The next day via text I admitted the angry part of my reaction was out of line and said I was sorry. I’m giving him space (I haven’t contacted him since the day after the break-up), but I not only feel like my apology was insufficient, I don’t know that he believed that my offer to give up drinking was genuine. I’m really torn as to whether or not I should contact him to make a better apology (i.e. not one with qualifiers and explanations) and to reiterate the fact that I was very serious that I’m willing to stop drinking. Clearly, a big part of my wanting to contact him is to hopefully get back together, but I do also think he deserves a better apology and I’ve never had a serious relationship end so badly and really don’t want this one to either. (FYI - While we were only together for six months, I really thought that this had long-term potential and we're both in our mid 30s).

This sounds really tough.

But I also think there's a dynamic here that may be more telling than you realize.

You say several times that you would be willing to give up drinking.

Would it only be for him, though?

Because my guess is that part of the reason he broke up with you, given that your drinking is at issue, is because he wants you to be the person who understands that your drinking is a problem and does something about it.

Not because he wants to be the commandant who makes you choose him or your drinking.

That difference is an important one.

Now, I will acknowledge that I have no objective source here-- perhaps he is making your drinking a bigger problem than most people would, or is overly rigid about it or has his own hangups about alcohol, etc-- so it's not that I am saying that you are in the wrong.

But, what I am saying is that if you are truly compatible with him, you likely would have to show him that giving up drinking is something that you are doing.

Not just something you would put the effort in to do if and only if he says so.

So... in terms of a furthered apology, I would think that it should include some concrete actions in the direction of sobriety (if you are truly willing to do them for their own sake.)

Do you see what I mean?

Ditto the training class. My little guy was attacked twice and neither one of us wanted to go outside. The classes made us both so much more confident. And, it was fun to learn new skills in a friendly environment.

This is so heartening to hear-- thanks. Though I'm so sorry about the attacks.

I have a manipulative widowed MIL. Instead of the silent treatment and meanness, it is constant sighing and complaining that she's alone (in a seniors community of 3000 people) and trips to the ER when she doesn't get enough attention. Seriously, the closest ER to her apartment will not take her anymore. She has seen a psychologist AND a psychiatrist but will not stick to a course of meds and will not accept talk therapy. I found the book Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry to be a help. I can't change MIL. What she is doing (also spurred by intense anxiety IMO) is beyond my control and if she wants to suffer, I don't have to hear about it as often as she wants to tell me. I also don't have to dance around when she starts pulling the holiday guilt strings. I must add though that emotional vampires are very good at picking their targets. None of my MILs blood children feel the slightest twinge over "neglecting" her, but I had to read a book to find the insight and the backbone to stop responding to her pain.

I can't claim familiarity with this book, but I'm so glad that it helped you.

Coming up against the reality of not being able to force others get the help they need-- it's tough stuff, I know. I am glad that you are finding your way with it.

Isn't this breaching some sort of professional boundary? How would one adult even get access to another adult's therapist?

Presumably, her daughter told her about this therapist. And if her daughter wanted, she could sign a release to have them talk.

But I didn't even mean it in that way, necessarily. The therapist doesn't have to respond-- that would be the potential breach (if there no release.) But nothing is stopping Mom from sending whatever messages she chooses to the therapist. It might make her feel better to have done so.

I just want to point out that quite a few people in the United States live in places where staying in a hotel really *isn't* an option.

It's true, to an extent I hadn't stopped to think about. Thanks.

My brother has a history of mental health problems stemming from a childhood trauma. At times in the past, these problems have been quite serious—scary incidents at home, extensive in-patient treatment, etc. For the past few years, he’s been doing much better. He seemed happier, better able to cope with stress and triggers, and just a lot more even-keeled, generally. For some reason, though, things have taken a sudden and sharp downward turn in the last few weeks. He’s extremely depressed, often doesn’t leave bed and has a variety of other symptoms. My question isn’t really about what to do for him. I know he needs to get back into therapy and see his psychiatrist, and I’ve been encouraging that to the extent that I can. My parents and his spouse are also helping on that front, though his spouse is pretty passive and could probably be a more forceful advocate as the one who is in most direct contact with him. My question, though, is about managing my own anxiety around this situation. It’s terrifying to me to think we’re headed back into the same very dark territory we were in 5 years ago. Our first chance in quite some time to all be together again will be on Christmas, and I’m kind of dreading what seems like will inevitably be a very difficult day. Do you have any tips or suggestions for managing my fear and anxiety about this? I know a lot of these potential events aren’t in my control, but it’s so scary to just be waiting around for disaster to strike.

It is scary, indeed, and my heart goes out to you.

But you can really benefit from setting some compassionate limits here: with yourself.

You are not responsible for your brother's well-being.

I'm serious.

You are not responsible for your brother's well-being.

You can love him and support him and encourage him and check in on him and collaborate with your parents and his spouse... you can do all this many times over, but if you don't set some limits mentally about what role you have, then you are adding more anxiety and distress into the universe, which helps him zero and only hurts you.

First, start to recognize your skewed thoughts as they come up. You probably have a significant amount of cognitive distortions there, that it is your job to keep things on track or fix them (it's not), that if there are setbacks this month it automatically my means that the path is taking a downward turn (it doesn't), that his gains will all be lost if his depression comes back (they won't.)

He is on his own path.

Like anyone with significant psychological challenges, that path is not linear. And there are sometimes steps back.

It doesn't mean all is lost.

Ultimately, this is about creating a more nuanced view of the situation, and your role in it. Your job is to love him. But you can't steer his ship. His ship is hitting some rough waters, yes, but once again, your job is to love. And to give yourself some love and compassion as well.

Try to build in some oases for Christmas Day itself. What will you do when your stress peaks, or when your heart feels like it can't take it? Take a walk? Hang out with a snuggly dog? Turn on a parade? Make yourself busy in the kitchen? Take five minutes to listen to some music and do some breathing exercises on your own? Call a friend?

You say it's so scary to be waiting around for disaster to strike-- and I get that, I really do. Especially after things had seemed to be going better, it feels particularly cruel.

But remember-- this is his process. And he is on his own path. He may very well recover better this time around than in times past, because again, he has learned certain tools that have not gone away, even if he is temporarily incapable of using them.

Hang in there, and keep us posted.

This is from an outsider without kids, but this sounds developmentally pretty on the nose. It's time to provide condoms no questions asked. Your son is starting to become sexually active. Kids will find a way to do stuff together. Yes, getting caught in a closet is embarrassing but it sounds like both kids were there for the same reason. I guess I'm just not sure why you think this is bad.

I'm guessing it was just a shock to the system, and it did feel like a betrayal (even if it shouldn't), given how the conversations had gone before.

But I agree, OP sounds like they're on the right parenting track in this thing for now.

Thanks for the advice on labeling my anxious thoughts, Dr., and all the tips from the crowd - they're all good ideas. I might try to find a walking buddy. And we might do class indoors just for entertainment/exercise--she's liked obedience, agility and nosework in the past. She's fine around other dogs --she actually doesn't care about 99.9% of dogs--she just ignores them. It's me who has the anxiety about a possibly aggressive dog right now, so as usual the human needs more training than the dog! :)

Yes, I hear from dog trainers that that is almost always the case- ha!

I'm so glad you found it helpful. I think we have a good percentage of doggo-knowledgeable people in this chat (and I love it!) Please do keep us posted.

One of your long-time sober chatters here: The best way for sobriety to work is when it's first and foremost a gift to oneself. Anyone else is a collateral beneficiary.

Thank you. You put it beautifully.

I think this is a good way to approach it. Maybe he didn't even really lie - it's easy to feel like 'I'm not ready' but then when um push comes to kiss. You're doing great - you're going to be having an open conversation with him. I think framing it around learning not to be carried away. I also think that you might have to be open to how you're going to talk about him becoming sexually active - it's about to happen / happening and ignoring that is only going to disrupt your communication.

Good points.

Good communication is so easy to lose, and so hard to build up. Keeping it going is crucial. Thanks.

The " lost his phone, and is on restrictions" bothers me. He lied, he misled the OP, the OP feels let down. Why not just say that to her son? I feel like confiscating phones or car keys is for damaging, acting-out behavior. I do not put messing around with a fellow teen in that category.

Well, I can see this viewpoint.

But let's say he was caught drinking beer in the bedroom of a friend, and the friends' parents had to call OP.

Would being on restrictions be appropriate then?

Probably so.

I understand the whole teens will be teens/hormones thing, and also agree that keeping communication open is key rather than treating this like a federal offense, but I can't ignore the fact that he DID do something in someone else's home that was deemed unacceptable. Presumably since he was found in a closet, then he was not supposed to be there at all, was sneaking around, and it was not acceptable to the parents. I don't think we really give that a free pass, do we?

Buster reports that time is up, unfortunately.

We have come to the end of the 2019 (and the 20teens, for that matter) road!

I am planning to be back the first week of January, so the 7th. It will be strange to have such a long break, but I am hoping we can solidify this space in 2020... again, nothing is a given, but I plan on being here and I hope you will be too.

In the meantime, be kind to yourself in what can be a highly stressed time.

You deserve it-- I'm sure of it.

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, and is the author of two books in addition to the upcoming "Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover The Life You've Always Wanted."
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